The discussion of Asian representation in film and television has been reignited this week following the less-than-well received premiere of Marvel’s “Iron Fist” and the news that Marvel almost went in a different direction, casting-wise.
After a months-long search, “Game of Thrones” vet Finn Jones landed the role of Danny Rand/the Immortal Iron Fist on Marvel’s Netflix series, which premiered last week. But prior to the announcement that Jones would play the lead — and concurrent with the controversy that Tilda Swinton had been cast as the Ancient One, originally an Asian character, in “Doctor Strange” — a very public effort was made to convince Marvel to cast an Asian instead of a white actor (since the character is white in the original comics).
That didn’t end up happening as Marvel chose to cast according to the source material. So, it was after critical and audience reaction to “Iron Fist” was, to say the least, very mixed, the issue of casting returned to the fore. In reviews, many critics noted in particular a moment early on, when white man Danny Rand lectures Asian American martial arts phenom Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick) about martial arts, as emblematic of the show’s deeper problems.
As it turns out, Marvel did consider casting an Asian actor in the lead role, and one who came pretty close to getting it was action and stunt actor Lewis Tan, whose stunt credits include “The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” among others. Tan auditioned for the role of Iron Fist/Danny Rand, but was ultimately cast as a very well-received one-off villain (Marvel baddie Zhou Cheng) for the show’s eighth episode. In fact, Tan’s brief appearance has been singled out as one of the show’s real highlights.
Tan sat down with Vulture this week to talk about the show, his experiences as a half white, half Chinese actor (he is from England), and offer frank thoughts about what might have been. The quote that has everyone talking comes later in the interview, when Tan was asked about the push, prior to the announcement of Finn Jones, to cast an Asian actor as Danny Rand.
“It is a missed opportunity. That’s exactly how I feel about it, word for word,” Tan said. “It would’ve been a brave thing to do, for sure, for Marvel. I can see how that was difficult to make that decision. I think, personally, it would’ve paid off. But I think it’ll come next because people are feeling underrepresented. People are like, “Yo, this was a perfect opportunity to represent us.” They chose not to, and it’s not even their fault.”
“I see why they stuck to the source material because it’s very risky to move away from that, but they’ll move away from it in other areas and in other shows where they’ll take an Asian character and make him white. So you can’t really win with that argument. Because we’ve seen many times when they’ve taken Asian characters and made him white.”
Suffice to say, in the hours since the interview, that quote alone has Twitter users of all backgrounds aflame with jokes and outright disappointment that the role might have gone to one of the show’s standouts. Read on for a sampling.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) March 20, 2017
I should be surprised that Lewis Tan didn't get the lead in @MarvelIronFist but I'm not
— Teaba (@teabakhan) March 21, 2017
— deliyono2 (@deliyono2) March 21, 2017
When they say you need more experience vs. who they hire for the job pic.twitter.com/44o21938TP
— Matthew A. Cherry (@MatthewACherry) March 21, 2017
Lewis Tan shows more charisma and presence in his first 30 seconds on #IronFist than Finn Jones does in any of the 8 episodes preceding them
— Laura Prudom (@LauInLA) March 20, 2017
I am legitimately haunted by the fact that @TheLewisTan auditioned for the lead role in Iron Fist and didn't get it. Can I have that show?
— Laura Prudom (@LauInLA) March 20, 2017
Lewis Tan had probably the best fight in Iron Fist. Sad that they didn't cast him as danny. https://t.co/h9ovyuToxB
— The Detroit Flatline (@Hinchable) March 21, 2017
imagine being on the iron fist set watching lewis tan walk on and still having to address finn jones as danny rand.
— Punch More Nazis (@KendraJames_) March 18, 2017
@abrahamjoseph strangely enough I actually thought during his scene 'why didn't they cast this guy?' And that was before this news.
— Achala Upendran (@AchalaUpendran) March 20, 2017
honeshley, when @TheLewisTan showed up in ep. 8, i was ready to swear my life to The Hand and let Lewis f*st me until the day i die.
— pjerick3 (@pjerick3) March 21, 2017
To clarify, lifelong martial artist @TheLewisTan auditioned for the part of Iron Fist repeatedly only to get a villain role. Very Bruce Lee.
— Aaron Stewart-Ahn (@somebadideas) March 20, 2017
Of course, not everyone considers it a particularly bad outcome, though not for the reasons Marvel might have hoped.
— Michael FAIRFAX (@FAIRFAXMichael) March 21, 2017
AAIronFist ppl: Everything about the show sucks, not just Finn Jones
Same ppl: Casting Lewis Tan would have made the show so much better! pic.twitter.com/OoKeyXqJoK
— Skeptic Kev (@WeaponXKP21) March 21, 2017
@legendpoe Also Lewis Tan honestly comes off as arrogant and brash knowing possibly nothing about the source material.
— raul gomez (@raulgom86066610) March 21, 2017